Historically, mothers have typically only been breadwinners if they were unmarried, divorced, or widowed. But today, some 70% of mothers, including married ones, can expect to be their household’s breadwinner for at least a year from the time they give birth through their first child’s 18th birthday.
That’s according to a new study published Tuesday by the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit organization based at the University of Texas at Austin.
The authors of the study, Jennifer Glass, R. Kelly Raley, who are both sociology professors at UT Austin, and Joanna Pepin, a sociology professor at the University at Buffalo, define being a breadwinner as earning at least 60% of the household’s earnings last year.
“Some 70% of mothers, including married ones, can expect to be their household’s breadwinner for at least a year from the time they give birth through their first child’s 18 birthday”
Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014-2017 Survey of Income and Program Participation, the authors estimate that, on average, mothers can expect to be breadwinners for nearly six years.
Some 76% of mothers who attended college but didn’t get a degree will be a breadwinner at some point during their child’s life. Some 30% of mothers fall into that category.
Meanwhile some 71% of mothers who graduated college with a degree will be a breadwinner at some point in their child’s life, that’s nine percentage points higher than mothers without a high school diploma.
“Since February 2020, some 1.6 million American women left the workforce”
“Our findings demonstrate that many American children already depend primarily on their mothers’ earnings for their well-being, and that most will likely do so at some point in their childhood,” the study’s authors wrote.
In 2000, only 15% of primary-earning mothers were married, but by 2017 that share rose to nearly 40%.
But without access to paid family leave and/or affordable child care when schools and daycares were closed, many mothers went from being primary earners to primary caregivers during the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic reveals the tremendous risks to children when mothers cannot earn money for their families because they do not have access to childcare and/or paid caregiving leave,” the report authors wrote. “In large part because of the lack of such supports, mothers have experienced job losses at over twice the rate of fathers in this crisis.”
Since February 2020, more than 1.6 million American women have left the workforce, meaning they were unemployed but stopped looking for work, according to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center. In contrast, 1.1 million men have left the workforce since then.
Democrats sought to include paid family leave in President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better package, but they nixed the idea to appease moderate Democrats.
A shortage of affordable child care is contributing to the country’s labor shortage, according to some experts, and that the lack of a national policy on paid family leave has a disproportionate effect on working mothers, especially women of color.